Tyson Houle, right, his wife Angela Houle and their son Seth, 14 months, revisit the remnants of their home in NW Slave Lake, Alta., on Thursday, June 16 2011. The Houles were only waiting on technicalities to close the sale of their newly renovated home before the wildfires. Through his company, Bullitproof Construction Ltd., Tyson is involved in the reconstruction of Slave Lake.
Credits: AMBER BRACKEN/QMI AGENCY
EDMONTON - It's nothing short of a miracle that no residents died in the massive blaze that nearly wiped Slave Lake, Ab, off the map last May.
But, while residents are grateful, some are less than impressed with the handling of their fire-ravaged homes in the immediate aftermath.
"What hurt the most was the removal of our property without our consent," resident Cathy Redgate said. "We do feel as though we were violated twice."
Redgate says she would have given anything to walk through her burned out home and look for salvageable goods.
At the very least, she wishes she'd had the chance to stand in front of it and say goodbye.
"They removed everything, just scooped it up and took it to the dump," she said. "It was very wrong of them to do."
But Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee says officials had no choice.
"There were many hot spots in smouldering basements, so it wasn't safe for the return of our residents," Pillay-Kinnee said, adding the town didn't have a water supply to douse every basement. "We had to remove the intense burning debris for a safe return of our residents."
She says she understands why residents feel violated, but teams of volunteers went through every basement, gathering anything they deemed salvageable.
The RCMP held those items and returned them to displaced residents.
"A lot of care was taken," she said. "It saddens me that our residents are hurting because of that, but we had to do that to make it a safe community."
Kristin Hallwood, whose home was destroyed, says she and her neighbours understand the constraints the town was operating under.
"They did what they had to do, to be honest I don't think we would have found a whole lot anyway," she said. "The stuff that we did find was damaged or very burnt, so I don't think much could have been salvageable."
This week, officials reminded the public the town didn't make it through the fire death-free.
A pilot lost his life while fighting the fire.
"It was very hard when we lost the pilot Jean Luc Deba," Pillay-Kinnee said.
Deba was flying one of several helicopters scooping water from the lake to fight the wildfires.
His helicopter went down in the lake, and though he was pulled from the water, he died later from head injuries.
The Transportation Safety Board later ruled the pilot had misjudged his altitude.
"His daughters were here," Pillay-Kinnee said. "That was probably my darkest time, was talking to them."